Carlos Boozer scored 32 points and had 18 rebounds the last time he played in the Delta Center, the night that Zydrunas Ilgauskas got ejected and LeBron James turned an ankle.

His grandmother had passed away that day, and he dedicated the game to her, and he says it probably was a turning point in his career.

"Once you've achieved something great like a 30-point game in the league, your confidence grows," said Boozer Thursday night in the Utah Jazz's Zion's Bank Basketball Center.

He was there to sign a controversial six-year, $68 million deal to play for the Jazz, inking the pact the moment it was legal, at 10:01 p.m. MDT, after Cleveland's 15-day matching period had expired.

Certainly that mid-season breakout game in the Delta Center made Boozer a lot bigger on the Jazz radar screen as the team had a lot of cap room to spend this summer and has been in need of a dominating power forward ever since Karl Malone left last summer.

"That's too big a shoes to fill," said Boozer, who flew to Salt Lake City Thursday after working out with the U.S. Olympic team in Jacksonville, Fla., "but I plan to work my tail of to be the best Carlos Boozer I can be."

Jazz owner Larry H. Miller told Boozer by phone that, at age 22, he shouldn't try to be something he's not — a Karl Malone — and Boozer answered with a respectful, "Yes, sir."

Jazz senior vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor said, "We're thrilled to have a young power forward who has demonstrated that he can play at a high level in this league."

Boozer maintained his claim of innocence with regard to the contract that he signed in front of the media one minute into July 30, Eastern time. Cleveland had his rights under a rookie contract for another year but chose to waive those rights and sign him to a free-agent contract of about $41 million.

Cleveland said it thought it had an agreement with Boozer to sign that deal, but such an agreement would have been illegal prior to July 1, the date free agency talks could begin, and Boozer is steadfast that he never gave his word.

The Jazz and other teams got wind of his free agency and struck quickly, clearing the move with the NBA first, then offering the $68 million that Cleveland would be hard-pressed to match.

"I'm not a guy that gives his word and then takes it away. I think I've made that clear," said Boozer, who has answered the same questions about the deal all week while he's been practicing with the Olympic team. "There was no commitment," he said, adding such would have been illegal. "It's unfortunate how the turn of events went in the media."

Boozer, who will wear No. 5 for the Jazz and is No. 7 on the Olympic team, said it wasn't the money that had him interested in Utah. He cited Utah's "legendary coach," Jerry Sloan, the Jazz organization "and, of course, really good players and a great system" as things he liked about Utah.

Even though he and wife CeCe don't yet have children — "We still feel like kids ourselves," he said — "I'm married, so it seems like a family oriented city," he said of Salt Lake.

He also says he would have signed with Utah even if the Jazz offer had been near the Cavs' $41 million deal. (It had to be higher so Cleveland couldn't match.) "I can't see why it would have been different. This is the best situation for me," he said, adding he liked Utah "from the beginning," and that his decision was always "clear cut."

Boozer also looks at his new teammates like Matt Harpring, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Arroyo and Tuesday signee Mehmet Okur and says, "I hope we can win a championship. That's my goal." He admitted it might take a few years — but he's got six to work with.

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Boozer, from Alaska, won an NCAA championship with Duke in 2001. He is three classes short of graduating and had planned to do it this summer until the Olympic opportunity came along. He promised his mother he'll graduate next summer.

He also had only good things to say about Cleveland. "The fans were terrific," he said, recalling support even in a 15-game losing streak. He said he told all his teammates they'll have a good team and he wishes them success, then asked for the same wish in return. He said he got it.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com